Revealed! The Productivity Secrets of Laura Stack

Laura Stack the Productivity ProLaura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker. Her mission is to build high-performance productivity cultures in organizations by creating Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management training firm, specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations as well as the current president of the National Speakers Association.

Laura brought the spirit of Cavett Robert alive on Saturday for the 100 members and guests of the Northern California chapter who were lucky enough to attend an awesome meeting to kick-off 2012. “The spirit of Cavett is”, Laura said, “all about making the pie larger, and which other association would have members who openly share their best trade secrets with everyone else?”

And Laura shared, boy, how she shared!

Laura has built a successful business as The Productivity Pro® with clients such as Microsoft and DayTimer as well as a growing number of individual fans. Her 14,000 followers on Twitter receive a tip of the day listing “Time Management Skills for Maximum Results in Minimum Time”.

In fact, when the 2008 recession hit and her corporate business dried up, Laura actively sought out consumers and has focused her website around sales of consumer-friendly $39-$79 price-point downloadable audio and video products that have made her a quarter-of-a-million-dollars in income since then.

Here’s how she did it.

Build a website focused around online products

The Productivity Pro

In addition to offering the usual speakers menu choices of keynote, seminars and coaching services, Laura’s website focuses on webinars, video training is, and courseware that can be ordered online. Here’s her step-by-step guide on how anyone can duplicate her success using these methods.

The secrets of selling on-line webinars

  • Become a subject matter expert in your chosen topic.
  • Choose a package like GoToWebinar or WebEx.
  • Find companies or associations who will promote your events to their lists. Expect that only 50% of those who sign up will actually attend. Give an Association discount of 20% and kickback 20% of the registration fee to the Association. Make sure you keep the e-mails of all those who register for your own list.
  • Charge $39 for an individual webinar and offer a series discount of $119.
  • Laura Stack Webinars

  • Guard against multitasking by the audience with a vast number of graphically compelling PowerPoint slides. If your topic would typically use 35 slides in an auditorium, plan on having 125 slides for a webinar. Make use of polls, encourage audience responses in the question monitor and deliver at a fast pace to keep the audience’s attention.
  • Avoid specific references to your slides in the webinar. This allows you to strip out the audio and sell it for $7.99 as an MP3.
  • Never, ever, distribute the PowerPoint source files. Only send out PDF to prevent people bootlegging your seminars.
  • Keep track of any comments and questions as a source of topics for future webinars.
  • Set up a shopping cart on your site to take money from customers for the webinars. Laura uses Cyberstrong – a one-charge chart that does what she needs.
  • Charge a $390 site license if multiple people at one location if would like to take the webinar. A $1,390 licence covers multiple locations. A $2,500/hr fee for custom webinars.
  • Don’t distribute the link for the webinars. Instead once people register, enter their name and e-mail into the system and have it generate a reminder for them to login— this prevents people sending the login to their friends.
  • Take the raw video file from the webinar and turn it into a product for people who are unable to make the live event. Post the video on Vimeo — invest in a $200 Vimeo Pro license so that you can password-protect the screening download which you tag as private. Put that password-protected link in a page on your site available from an e-learning drop-down menu.

For me, that last tip was worth the price of the whole day!

Make money from home selling video training

Laura’s second major money-spinner uses a green screen studio at home to record compelling video tutorials. Again, she shared a step-by-step guide.

  • Purchase a green screen backdrop or paint the wall of your spare room with the appropriate paint.
  • Make sure you have a suitable HD digital camera and tripod and a 64-bit desktop computer.
  • Sign up for a community college class so you qualify for the student edition of the Adobe Premiere or Adobe visual communicator software package.
  • Purchase a GoSpeak portable microphone system with a wireless transmitter for a lapel mike. (You don’t need the speakers, they are an added bonus for your next podium presentation.)
  • Hire a designer from elance or to create custom backgrounds for your green screen.
  • Place posters with cartoon faces around the room you record in so that you have an “audience” to relate to.
  • Record your video training: stand in front of the green screen, plug the wireless mic into the camera which feeds audio and video to the PC where the Adobe software records a timeline of the presentation. In post-production you add lower thirds and a suitable backdrop. Leave pauses for group activity and learner response.
  • Distribute these large video files to customers who purchase via or, if they require, burn a DVD and mail it.

Guest Posting: Write Like A Pro, by Carey C. Giudici

Carey C. Giudici is an award-winning journalist, poet and essayist who has decades of experience using extraordinary language to help individuals, businesses and communities tap into all of their resources and insights. This posting is an adapted version of one of six blog posts entitled “Write Like A Pro.” The series, along with a number of other blogs about marketing and business, are at

These days, your local Starbucks can get quieter than a library.

People go there to “engage” digitally with crowds of strangers they’ll never lay eyes on, rather than chat with people at the next table.

Maybe they’re looking for greater control over every encounter. Or like the convenience and variety of instant access to unlimited media and channels in their personal corners of the “convergence culture.” Or perhaps they doubt their social abilities. There are opportunities and challenges for all of us here.

The opportunity to “go viral” if we can write vivid and persuasive content that’s driven by a big idea. And a real danger of disappearing without a trace if we don’t.

The legendary advertising executive and designer David Ogilvy was an excellent communicator. He created many of the most effective print and broadcast ads in history. His principles form the fountainhead for branding, “tribe” building and push-pull marketing strategies.

“Tell the truth,” he said. “But make the truth fascinating. You can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it.”

His advice to have “big ideas” and be remarkable is more important than ever– for speakers and business owners as well as advertisers and marketers.

Every professional speaker today is in advertising. Focus on telling the truth and wrapping it in a fascinating story. Engage your audiences and make them hungry for more.

Confessions of an Advertising ManAnd to get more clients, you could do worse than follow the four-step process that Ogilvy laid out in Chapter 2 of his 1963 book, Confessions of an Advertising Man.

All those people hunkered over their laptops in Starbucks are searching for, or experiencing, messages imbued with the wisdom that Ogilvy brought to life decades ago.

Watch this well produced and thought provoking four minute video and make Ogilvy’s advertising philosophy your engagement strategy. It’s what most great speakers do.

Relevant Resources: Holiday Gifts

I help edit SPEAKER Magazine for the National Speakers Association (NSA). Each month I curate the Relevant Resources column – a list of time-saving tools and technologies.

The December edition listed a variety of gifts suitable for clients, speakers’ bureau contacts, colleagues, friends and loved ones. Whether the recipient is a foodie, science geek, chocolate lover, adventure seeker or bookworm, this selection is sure to get your gift-giving wheels turning.

Get a Life

Life Magazine CoverGive the gift of nostalgia with a copy of the actual LIFE magazine published the week your recipient was born or during a key event that took place in their lifetime. Pick a date from 1936 to 2000 and add a beautiful easy access hinged wood display frame for $35. Prices vary by date of issue.

Achieve Stardom

There are billions of stars in the sky, but only one with your (or your loved one’s) name on it. The Name a Star gift box is a unique and romantic gift that comes with naming instructions, a wall map, astronomy booklet and personalize pen. Once the recipient submits a name, he or she will receive a certificate, unique information about the star and a guide to locate it in the night sky. $40.

Keep It Classic

U Star NovelThey say all professional speakers should have a book. U Star Novels let’s you star in a personalized edition of your favorite classic alongside your friends, family members or colleagues. The plot remains the same, but you choose the cast and decide who follows the White Rabbit down the hall in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and who gets to be Tom Sawyer in the Mark Twain classic. $24.95.

Rev’d Up

Give your adventure junkie friend the ultimate adrenaline boost with a Race Car Driving Experience gift from Cloud9 Living. Choose from locations nationwide and numerous racing packages, including stockcar racing, Indy car racing, formula racing and dragster racing. Whatever you choose, it is sure to fulfill the need for speed. Prices vary.


Everyone knows a chocolate lover or two. Give them the ultimate gift that keeps on giving-membership with the Chocolate of the Month Club from Amazing Clubs. Each month, they’ll receive a one pound selection of premium chocolate made by leading chocolatiers across the nation. Membership plans are offered in three-, six-, and 12-month periods. Prices vary.

It Figures

Sculpeto FigurinesSurprise clients or loved ones with a fully customized figurine from Sculpteo. Simply upload a headshot and profile picture, describe the clothes and accessories you want your figurine to have, approve the model and receive it in the mail in just 10 days! Go conventional or eccentric, and select from a variety of themes and careers including fireman, pilot, doctor, sports aficionado. $75.

Spell It Out

Like to D-I-Y? Letter Perspectives lets you design your own unique framed letter art using a name, unique phrase or word that is special to the recipient. Create a masterpiece by entering letters, choosing your theme ( nature, sports or rustic), selecting from black and white or sepia photo tones, and picking the perfect mat and frame to match. Starting at $160.

Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot

Gallon of Tabasco SauceSpice things up in the New Year with a personalized gallon jug of Tabasco – everyone’s favorite hot sauce. Nothing says “I’m a TABASCO lover” like one of these sitting on the kitchen counter. Available in all the flavors you love: Original Red, Green, Chipotle, Garlic, Habanero, and SWEET & Spicy. $44.95.

As You Wish

Need a little R&R after the holidays? SpaWish gift certificates and cards can be used at thousands of day spas and beauty salons across the country for services like manicures, pedicures, haircuts, hot stone massages and tanning. Print a personalized gift certificate at home, have it delivered via e-mail or shipped in a gift box for as low as $4.99. Prices vary.

Next to Napa

French Laundry CookbookDinner at Thomas Keller’s famed Napa Valley gourmet restaurant (voted one of the top 10 restaurants in the world) costs around $300 a head, and reservations need to be made six months ahead. Why wait? Treat someone to The French Laundry Cookbook and dine in style over the holidays. $30.

Help Haiti

Give a gift with meaning, purpose and passion. The Lambi Fund of Haiti provides boats, fishing equipment, pigs, goats, honeybees, tree seedlings and irrigation canals that can be purchased in a friend or family member’s name. With these special gifts of life, families in Haiti are provided with numerous opportunities to grow and generate income. Prices vary.

You can subscribe to SPEAKER magazine on the NSA website.

Guest Posting: How to become a Keynote Speaker, by Patrick Schwerdtfeger

Patrick Schwerdtfeger is the author of Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed and Webify Your Business – Internet Marketing Secrets for the Self-Employed. He is a regular speaker for Bloomberg TV. He has spoken about Modern Entrepreneurship, Online Branding and the Social Media Revolution at conferences and business events around the world.

This article was first published in his own blog. It is an honest, first-hand report on the steps to take to become a professional speaker.

How to become a Keynote Speaker

by Patrick Schwerdtfeger

I earn about 80% of my income from speaking fees and the remainder from book sales. I haven’t done any coaching or consulting in almost two years. My speaking career has taken me to every major city in this country as well as destinations in Canada, Mexico, Aruba, Sweden, Finland and India. I absolutely love what I do.

A lot of people ask me about the speaking business so in this post, I will describe the path I’ve chosen and the things I’m doing to push my career forward.

First, it’s important to understand that there are two very different categories in the speaking business: platform and keynote. Read Platform Speakers versus Keynote Speakers for more information. This post focuses exclusively on keynote.

Second, speaking engagements tend to fall into one of three different strata: the free circuit, the cheap circuit and the pro circuit. Read 3 Levels in the Speaking Business for more information. Becoming a keynote speaker implies that you’re getting paid to speak.

Saturate Your Market

Darren Lacroix (the Toastmasters 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking) frequently cites “stage time” as being critical to success in the speaking business. Bottom line; the more you practice, the better you get. I agree 100% and recommend you start with the free circuit in your local community to refine your message and fine-tune your delivery.

In 2008, I spoke at 47 Rotary Clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area and didn’t get paid for any of them. In 2009, I spoke at 127 events (!!) and got paid for six of them, all in the cheap circuit. In 2010, I spoke at 68 events and got paid for 21, split evenly between cheap circuit and pro circuit. And in 2011, I will probably do 60 or 70 events and will get paid for 35 or 40 of them.

Let’s look at travel. In 2008, I traveled for two events (Vancouver and San Diego). In 2009, I traveled for four events (Sweden, Aruba, Phoenix and Chicago). In 2010, I traveled for 20 events (including India, Finland, Calgary, Vancouver and more than a dozen domestic destinations). And in 2011, I have been to every major city in the country as well as destinations in Mexico, Canada and one coming up in Portugal.

This is a process! On the one hand, it has gone slowly. But on the other, it has gone extremely quickly. But the point is that I have “walked the path” and encourage you to do the same. So far, I have four years invested.

Getting Started

Looking back now, those days in 2008 when I was driving from one Rotary Club to another were dreadful. But at the time, it was exciting. Yes, I was broke (seriously, I was living on roots and berries!) but I didn’t mind. It was all new territory for me and I felt like I was making progress.

How did I book all these Rotary Clubs? I used the club locator function on their website to compile a listing of 194 clubs in the Bay Area and Sacramento. Once compiled, I spent two days making phone calls and sending out emails. I created a 1-page PDF file for my programs and emailed it off to the Program Director of each club. The PDF file had the following elements:

  • Program Title
  • Program Description
  • Personal Biography
  • Personal Head Shot
  • Contact Information

When I first started, my program was entitled “Driving Internet Traffic” but many of the Rotary Clubs rejected that topic because it was too business oriented. Rotary International is a non-profit community organization. Even though they function as business networking groups, they focus a lot on charitable causes and community development. As such, my topic wasn’t a good match.

During the afternoon of my first day of outreach, I developed a second program that would better fit the community-oriented mission of the Rotary organization. And to this day, it was the worst title I have ever crafted for any reason. It was awful. And it took me almost a full year to realize how bad it truly was. The program I developed that day was called:

“Touching a Younger Audience”

So bad. Embarrassing. But anyway, the point is that I only invested two days for outbound calling and emailing. Now, to be clear, I didn’t have all 47 events booked by the end of the second day, but my outbound efforts were done at that point. There was a bunch of back-and-forth with different clubs and some didn’t get confirmed for weeks, but my job was done. All I had to do was follow up. You can obviously do the same thing. Here’s the key:

  • Think of an awesome juicy sexy title.
  • Write a captivating and enticing description.

Rotary Clubs are easy to get into because they meet weekly and are always looking for speakers, but they’re not the only ones. Kiwanis Clubs and Lions Clubs are in the same boat and these days, you can find dozens of local Meetup Groups that would also make great opportunities. Finally, I suggest checking with your local Chamber of Commerce. Not only do they hold events themselves, but they usually know about a lot of other events too.

Climbing the Ladder

Obviously, the objective is to rise above the free circuit and start earning speaking fees. Over and above all the outbound marketing I’ve done, the #1 thing that has helped my career move forward it positive word-of-mouth advertising. If your speech is insightful and impactful, people will pass your name along.

This is critical for success. That’s why I recommend saturating your local market first. As Darren Lacroix says, stage time, stage time, stage time. Practice makes perfect. Someone once asked Tony Robbins how to become a great speaker. He said, “give the same speech 1,000 times and you’ll be good at it.” Your career will not advance if your speech isn’t insightful and impactful.

Anyway, assuming you’ve crafted a powerful keynote, people will pass your name along. The interesting thing is that referrals from free circuit gigs are generally for more free gigs. Referrals from cheap circuit gigs are usually for more cheap circuit gigs and referrals from pro circuit gigs are usually for more pro circuit gigs. They are like parallel worlds. They seem to function independently of each other.

The easiest way to start pushing referrals higher up the ladder is to start telling people what your speaking fee is. When I first started referencing a speaking fee, I said it was $2,500. Later, it increased to $5,000 and then to $10,000. Anyway, as soon as you mention a speaking fee, the free circuit people start to think differently about you and your services as a speaker.

Referencing a speaking fee does not mean you can’t do events for less money or even for free. As I mentioned above, I still do free events today, when I have a hole in my calendar or if I want an opportunity to address a particular audience. The point is that you need to muster the courage to request a speaking fee before anyone proactively offers it to you.

The big events (with big budgets) usually book 6 or 8 months in advance. Generally speaking, as I get closer to a particular date, I will accept lower-paying opportunities. For example, I will no longer book any free events more than 45 days in advance. Beyond that, there’s still a reasonable chance that a paid opportunity will turn up. But within 45 days of the date, if I still have an opening in my calendar, I will book free events that contribute to my career objectives.

If a particular organization asks me to speak for free or for a low fee, I will give them a date when I will confirm my participation. At that point, if they need to finalize their schedule, they will raise the fee to a point where I will confirm immediately. Otherwise, they will have my tentative acceptance but will also know that something else may come up, requiring me to back out of their event. For me, this approach has worked well.

Essential Marketing Collateral

As described in this post, most of the pro circuit opportunities are booked through speaker’s bureaus and agents, but don’t go knocking on their door too quickly. You only have one chance to make a good first impression and if you screw it up, it’s really hard to go back a second time. Trust me.

Always think about what the salespeople at the bureau (or the agents) need in order to do their job. More than anything else, they need a good demo video. I highly recommend making a good demo video before you approach any bureaus. Here is an example of an excellent demo video. Here are the four things you’ll need to enter the pro circuit:

  1. A good 3 to 5-minute demo video.
  2. Some great photos of you speaking.
  3. A printed one-sheet with your programs.
  4. A professional speaking-oriented website.

Ideally, get a three-camera shoot for the video: one on either side of the room and one behind you. That way, you can get two angles of you speaking as well as one of your back and the audience in front of you. That third angle will also allow you to get some close-up shots of audience members laughing or taking notes. For the two cameras facing you, make sure to get some close-up footage to show the expressions on your face. It shows your authenticity.

In terms of audio, I recommend a two-track recording: one lavaliere microphone on you and a second microphone to capture audience laughter. Audience reaction is extremely important. That’s what conference planners are buying. They’re buying an impact for their attendees. If the audience doesn’t react (i.e., laugh), you haven’t done your job and nobody will ever hire you. You want to make sure you capture that laughter on the video, so make sure you have a microphone on the audience. In your three- to five-minute video, you should be telling a powerful story with a strong message and at least two or three laugh lines.

When you record your video, you want to be in a big impressive room. Here’s what to look for:

  1. An audience of 200+ people.
  2. A raised stage.
  3. An impressive stage backdrop.
  4. Dimmed audience lighting.

You should be able to get everything you need at a single event. If you don’t have a big event booked, find a way to get 200+ people in a room. Make sure it’s an impressive room and then bring in a professional photographer and a videography crew. It’ll cost you some money but you can get the photos and demo video done all at one time, not to mention video testimonials from attendees. Remember, a good demo video is the single most important thing you’ll need.

Other Helpful Tips

Empty chairs kill events. The tighter the seating configuration, the stronger the audience reaction. So theatre style seating is much better than big round tables. And you’re always better to have too few chairs than too many.

Remember, for your programs, make sure you get a juicy sexy title and a tantalizing description. Program Directors make their selections based on your program title and description, along with your kick-ass demo video.

If you have been featured on any recognizable media outlets, get those logos onto your website and your one-sheets. If you have spoken to any large corporations, add those logos. They build immediate credibility.

If you have been interviewed on TV, add clips to your demo video. Again, here is an excellent example of an awesome demo video. Watch it. His entire introduction is done with a compilation of TV clips. Brilliant.

I hope this post helps you chart a course for your evolution as a speaker.

NSA Influence ’11 Convention – 50 Key Take Aways

20 members of the Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association met on Saturday to debrief on the #nsa11 National Convention held July 30 – August 2 in Anaheim and share their key take-aways. We have held these meetings for a number of years, with the understanding that since only 12% of people act on what they learn conferences, the more key take-aways we can capture, the more likely we are to implement what we heard. Here’s my notes on the discussion.

  1. Ken Dychtwald began his presentation by peppering us with key questions to draw us in on a personal level. These rapid-fire questions were a brilliant way to open a speech.
  2. Dychtwald’s break-out session on the last day shared valuable rules to grow your speaking business:
    1. Use world-class promotional materials.
    2. Know the value of adding products like books, DVDs and seminar systems to your offerings.
    3. Understand the value of good PR and media coverage. Being featured in a magazine is priceless. Testimonials from a high-level person are worth their weight in gold.
  3. Dychtwald also shared his fees (he’s not an NSA member so I guess he could do this):
    1. $50k for a talk on the West Coast.
    2. $62K elsewhere in the USA.
    3. $90K out of the country.
    Want to know what you should charge? Talk to bureaus and meeting planners about other speakers in your area with the same level of expertise.
  4. The conference gave me a chance to stop comparing myself to people with 25 years experience in the industry. I let myself off the hook and realized I am now beginning to build my career to a point where I can be as spectacular as they are.
  5. Terry Sjodin listed the reasons why people buy: time, money, security, fun and ease-of-use. Build your presentation around those and they’ll buy from you.
  6. Sjodin explained the importance of having a courtroom style presentation. Start with an opening argument that lists the 10 most persuasive arguments or reasons they should work with you. Then give proof as evidence for that in the form of statistics and stories. Close with a compelling argument that meets the needs of your client. Then use the same arguments to create your brochures and website that are part of your brand.
  7. Julie Morgenstern encouraged us to own our niche by researching the books and articles others are writing on your topic, see what’s missing and then address that. Speak to what’s not being said, then develop a unique point of view. Become the expert.
  8. Morgenstern recommended we go to physical watering holes to meet CEOs to drum up business.
  9. Glenna Salsbury said “No one can get ahead of you, only you can be you. So let go of who you should be, to be who you are.”
  10. After 27 years in NSA, this conference made me realize that the world has changed. So I went to the conference to embrace and learn and have a great time, which I did. The best part was seeing all my old friends grandchildren’s pictures on the iPhone! I learned from Glenna that “if someone else can give your presentation, then you are not telling your story.” On the other hand, to be a little contrarian, there are people who tell our stories … and we must sue them!
  11. I learned that I need to go deep in my area and own it.
  12. This was my first conference and it was a learning and discovery process. I have just realized that people get paid for public speaking, now I realize they also get paid for coaching and consulting. One valuable tip I heard from somebody in the corridor was to ask potential clients “what’s keeping you up at night?”. Listen for things that are in your area of expertise then tell them “I just happen to have the program that can solve those problems.”
  13. Concepts from speeches I heard that encouraged me:
    1. Content is overrated.
    2. Give the audience an experience.
    3. What do I have to offer that they can’t get from everybody else?
    4. Think big, start small.
    5. Delivery doesn’t have to be perfect to work.
  14. Lessons learned:
    1. Be brief, clear and concise when messaging in today’s market.
    2. Be persuasive, creative and authentic.
    3. Be there to help people navigate the path to successful and healthy longevity.
  15. Suggestions I plan to implement:
    1. Use humor in my stories.
    2. Use social media especially YouTube.
  16. Kyle Maynard taught me that it’s important to get people to feel and then hone your story so the message is heard on different levels.
  17. When I saw the keynote speaker lose her way in the speech on the main stage it reminded me of the importance of being able to just keep talking. This speaker ran into trouble because she memorized the speech and her actions. It was an unfortunate example of somebody who might be able to coach, but she can’t speak. Even professional speakers can benefit from attending Toastmasters regularly which trains against this very thing.
  18. Ford Saeks encouraged us to break down what we do into speaking, coaching, products and know what percentage of revenue is generated from each.
  19. Ford Saeks: “Common sense is a superpower.”
  20. Larry Winget encouraged us to take a stand to establish credibility and show our expertise and share our opinion and frame of reference. It seems that some speakers at NSA are jealous of Larry. Certainly working with a Speakers Bureau was one of the secrets to him moving from $7,500 speeches up to the $30,000 level.
  21. The biggest take away was that I should own my position on the web and especially make use of YouTube videos for viral marketing. It’s the second largest search engine that is now owned by Google.
  22. This was by far the best NSA meeting I attended. I am encouraged to make my keynote more personal for the audience and use the term “we” more often. This is a shift from me just telling a story to thinking of things from the audience’s point of view. It was reinforced by Larry Winget who said we should give audiences an experience.
  23. This was my first NSA conference in 15 years, and people asked me what it changed. Back then during the breaks, instead of reaching for their smart phones, people used to rush for the payphones!
  24. Authenticity from the platform was key. This was my first conference and I found people were for the most part authentic and welcoming.
  25. Speakers need to be in tune with the younger generation and not live on speeches they’ve been giving for the last 10 years. If you do that, you’re finished. We have to give the younger generation context that shows we know what’s going on.
  26. Follow Patricia Fripp on Twitter (@PFripp) for excellent tips. Example: “Public speaking: Your stories will be more memorable when you tell them using more dialogue.”
  27. It resonated for me when Kyle spoke about how he experienced hate and that Larry Winget gets death threats. I wonder how many others are afraid of speaking on minds and do what is politically correct out of fear? It’s so easy to be influenced by a lone audience member who takes pride in “being offended”. I don’t think we should let that intimidate us. The conference gave me the strength to be myself.
  28. When I saw those excellent speakers on the main stage I thought that “One day I wanna be like them.” Just like young musicians listen to top bands to fuel their dreams, listening to top speakers at the conference fueled my dream.
  29. People’s perception of your presentation style, business cards, social media presence and website should all be congruent. Just because a certain perception works for one group doesn’t mean you can adopt it.
  30. A million-dollar speakers’ secret: Get into large corporations; leverage yourself; never leave.
  31. Jeffrey Gitomer said don’t just lead by example, set the standard. Go an inch wide and a mile deep. Push the envelope and set the standard and you are no longer derivative. That’s where the gold is. It doesn’t happen overnight, but now I’ve got something to shoot for.
  32. Jeffrey Gitomer told us to write every day. He said writing is wealth. If you’re not a writer, you’re not a speaker.
  33. Brian Tracy said we cannot achieve unless we “resolve to pay the price”. That resonated with me. It takes a lot of work and a lot of practice. So beware of NSA members who glom onto and prey on the new speaker. Anyone who promises to shorten the route to success should be treated with the utmost suspicion. I really would like national to do something to alert us to these people.
  34. I enjoyed the fact that Randy Gage who was so controversial in his own keynote a few years ago was the chair of this conference. He put on a confrontational conference and it was the better for it.
  35. The chapter leadership session was great with a good depth of knowledge being shared. People should know about which is a great resource. Likewise if you Google ‘softconference nsa’ you will find a link to the recordings of past conferences.
  36. Speaking can be a lonely business and the value for the conference for me was the interesting conversations I held throughout. It’s the people you meet at the bar, in the lobby and at the health club who make these conferences worthwhile.
  37. NSA members should not be dismissive of people who are newbies and might not have the initials CSP after their name. You never know who a new person at the conference is and what their background is.
  38. The buddy program for VIPs was a real winner. I’ve never been embraced by an organization and the individuals in it to the extent I have at this NSA conference.
  39. The humor session with Mark Mayfield helped me understand that adults remember very little of our talks and humor makes them more memorable.
  40. Seeing Fripp’s computer die at the Cavett Institute was a valuable lesson in how to handle equipment failure. She’s a real pro and did not let the lack of PowerPoint phase her.
  41. My blog was clogged before the conference but now I understand I can be a curator and an interpreter of information.
  42. Simon Mainwaring from Australia spoke about social media and storytelling. He had three lessons:
    1. Get the right mindset.
    2. Be a chief celebrant and don’t try to be a celebrity. The former has enthusiasm and engagement around the topic.
    3. Get Fan Action versus fan acquisition.
    4. Always have “How-manship” vs. “Show-manship”. Always show how.
  43. I loved the Monday night music jam session in the lobby. Sitting in and playing with strangers was great. Who knew that Max Dixon played such a great keyboard?
  44. Karpowitz said “The audience pays you for what you’ve survived, all your experiences in life .”
  45. Lisa Sasevich shared valuable information on how to go from a free-speech to monetizing it. She showed us how to sell from the platform without appearing to. Give a free speech but structure it in such a way that they buy into the transformation offered by your system. Give them a whole piece of your program and then reference the rest of it. She is a classic information marketer. Like Ford Saeks who also has a price point for everyone in the audience. She also handled a power outage with her projector very well.
  46. Lisa Jimenez said that “boldness gets rewarded.”
  47. Les Brown: “courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear”.
  48. Lou Heckler: “always ask who is speaking before you.” In fact it’s best practice to arrive a day earlier to conference so that you can listen to presentations preceding yours and do callbacks to them. Meeting planners respect speakers who arrive early.
  49. Lois Creamer spoke at the Consultants PEG and recommended setting up committees of people who can review and comment on your blog.
  50. Brendan Burchard stimulated me to think differently about social media. I have already written 52 tweets to send out on a weekly basis for the next year.

5 years of blogging

5th birthdayToday marks the 5th anniversary of this blog, launched on January 14, 2006 with a posting on English sports fans written after reading an article in the Financial Times.

I’d actually installed the WordPress blog software on my site the previous November. I then suffered through two months of writers block before I felt comfortable enough with the idea of blogging to actually write something.

Since then, finding topics for my blog has not been a problem. I’ve posted 597 articles and gathered 4,139 comments. It goes in cycles. Some weeks I post multiple times. At other times, such as over the past month, things are quieter.

I think my initial writers block was because I was unsure of the “tone” my blog should have. Was I in danger of being too personal? Too abstract and remote? Too English? Too American? Too political, spiritual, profane, radical or middle-of-the-road? Would I, heaven forbid, offend people?

Happily, I think I’ve managed to be all of those things. (Heck, I even had my blog censored when I worked for a major Silicon Valley computer company and my disclaimer that it was “my blog” carried no weight with my managers.)

I still find writing in response to an article in the FT, or a book I’ve finished, or a movie I’ve seen, to be one of the easiest forms of blogging.

Five years on, my thoughts on blogging are:

  • It’s been a worthwhile investment of my time. As a writer it allows me a safe, yet public, space to post. It feels like I have my own newspaper column.
  • While the blog has not brought me dozens of clients for my freelance speechwriting business, it has brought me to the attention of a couple of clients and paying work resulted. Of course, I have no way knowing if countless potential clients might have looked at stuff I’ve posted and never called because they did not like my opinions, or found the quality of my writing inadequate.
  • A primary benefit has been to promote my interests and area of expertise to a wide audience. This has paid off in terms of my professional reputation.
  • It’s been important to have a few regular sources of inspiration that challenge me to post to my blog. For example, my many friends and colleagues in the National Speakers Association. NSA conferences, meetings and the annual Pro-Track class have been a reliable source of content.
  • I’ve also re-posted articles I’ve written for and made it a habit to write full-length reviews of important books in the field of executive communications.
  • Guest postings generate a awful lot of traffic.
  • I’ve enjoyed podcasting and creating videos for the blog. It’s a lot easier to record a quick interview with conference attendees than post the lengthy reports at the end of a meeting.
  • Posting short updates and “gee-wizz” items on Twitter has supplemented blogging, especially over the past couple of years. I’ve posted over 1,100 tweets since I joined in November 2007.
  • I’ve made blogging the hub of my social media presence, linking my posts to LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
  • I’ve found the blog a useful place to archive information I need to share with others. A great example has been the Podcasting 101 article, which I refer people to quite regularly. I’ve used the Comments section to add additional references.
  • I’ve seen the value of blogging as a way of curating information, as with the listing of Top Tweets I created for different events, even some I didn’t attend in person.

I spend a lot less time than I used to looking at my site statistics. But here’s some stats (from Google Analytics) for one month last year:

Stats for October 2010

  • 11 articles posted
  • 4,205 unique visitors
  • Peak of 236 visitors on Oct 21, 2010 when I published 227 Top Tweets from #prsa_ic
  • 6,882 pageviews. The most popular page was Obama: The Lion in Winter from January 2009 where people spent an average 5:20 reading.
  • The three most common search phrases:
    executive communications, magcloud review and rhetorical analysis of obamas inaugural speech

Blog on!

Facilitation, Inspiration, Aspiration

The National Speakers Association of Northern California November Meeting

Last Saturday NSA/NC held an outstanding Chapter meeting. A full day of invaluable information for speakers and executive communications professionals. Over 120 members and guests attended the event sponsored by the Pro-Track program, now enrolling for January 2011.

Facilitation: The Secret Weapon of Professional Speakers, with Kristin Arnold

Facilitation Skills by Kristin ArnoldNSA National President Kristin Arnold started the day with a compelling presentation on facilitation. This is her area of expertise, since she has 20+ years experience and is the author of Facilitation Skills.

She distinguished facilitation (high process, low content) from keynoting (high content, low process). Her recommendations included:

  • Never do for the team what they can do for themselves
  • Type up meeting minutes as a value-add
  • Guide the meeting along the path from generating to organizing ideas, deciding on responsibilities and acting on them
  • Create an action plan, listing the who, what and when that will make things happen
  • If you ask for someone to volunteer for an action, be silent until you get a response.

The Power to Inspire: The Non-Verbal’s of Dramatic Presentations, with Michael Grinder

Michael presented on both side of lunch for a total of 90 minutes of instruction. He’s the master of non-verbal communication. His claim is that an average communicator informs; a good communicator persuades and a great communicator inspires. Michael is clearly a great communicator.

Michael showed, in fine-grain detail, how a speaker’s posture, voice, gesture and breath combine in the three phases of a conversation: speaking, listening and pausing. Understanding when and how to vary these tools allows a presenter to move between credibility and approachability. Not knowing undermines your message. For example, asking “Any questions?” in a monotone, with chin locked and palms facing downwards, creates a much less favorable audience reaction than asking the same question in a modulated voice, nodding your head and holding your palms up. No-one likes to interact with a dictator.

I loved his demonstration on the podium which showed how speakers should be aware that “Locations have memories”. If you have bad news to deliver as part of your talk, move, literally, to a different part of the stage. Then avoid that place for the rest of your talk.

The Elusive Obvious by Michael GrinderI purchased Michael’s package The Elusive Obvious which includes DVDs, flash cards and his book The Science of Non-Verbal Communication. His material lists 21 non-verbal secrets found at the heart of all communications, no matter how differently they might appear on the surface.

The content takes speakers through the four stages of professional development:

  • Content: the verbal level or the “what”
  • Process: the non-verbal or the “how”
  • Perception: timing or the “when”
  • Receptivity: permission or the “if”

The first two levels are part of the Science of communication, where the speaker is searching for the words to speak and deciding how to deliver them. The Art of communication assumes you know the tools of the Science and need to be conscious of when to deploy them appropriately. The highest level, Receptivity, is when speakers harvest the power of effective communication in terms of reputation, name recognition and high esteem.

Speaking to the Big Dogs: Getting Things Done with Executives, with Rick Gilbert

Speaking to the Big Dogs by Rick GilbertPast NSA/NC President Rick Gilbert closed the day by sharing his insights around speaking in the Board room. Rick’s framework for planning a C-Suite presentation is based on the advice from interviews with 23 Silicon Valley executives. They said that when they hear from a mid-level manager they expect that person to:

  • Have done extensive homework before the meeting
  • To get to the point immediately
  • Use data over stories
  • Make the numbers bullet proof
  • Reduce PowerPoint slides
  • Be prepared to have their time cut and topic changed without notice
  • Know how to deal with conflict among a group of executives
  • Know how to present bad news
  • Focus on strategy over style.

Rick’s framework for a Board room presentation lists some key points an aspiring middle-manager should use as a checklist prior to presenting:

  • Set the context for the meeting, confirming the topic and the time available
  • Cover the bottom-line “ask” for the discussion up front
  • Give solid reasons and list the value and benefits of the proposal
  • Present evidence (facts and data) for no more than two key points
  • Summarize these key points
  • Repeat the bottom line
  • Repeat the reason
  • Close with action steps.

That’s it – get in, and get out. Save squishy interactions for ordinary mortals, like, umm … your family.

Also, understand that you are not in charge and that you are in a time constrained environment. Presentations to senior management require the ability to improvise. You are dealing with people who control others for a living.

As someone once said, either have a plan, or be part of someone else’s plan.

Interview: Marsha Egan – Inbox Detox

Inbox Detox -  Marsha Egan Celebrated keynoter, facilitator, author and ICF-certified business leader coach, Marsha Egan is on a quest to help others save thousands of hours and reclaim their lives due to email mismanagement. She has been a featured guest on ABC Nightly News, FOX and Friends, and NBC talking about the 12 steps to curing email addiction now outlined in her best selling book Inbox Detox – a guide to shifting your e-mail habits that shows you how to take charge of your inbox, your workday, and your life.

Marsha rocketed to national prominence after publishing a simple e-book on curing email addiction. Requests for media appearances flooded in from around the world, as she shared her insights on changing our email culture, one inbox at a time.

I sat down with Marsha at the recent National Speakers Association Convention in Orlando and asked her the details about what she tells audiences about the steps to free up and time and attention from email. In the podcast (click on the icon below) you’ll hear Marsha:

  • Share shocking stats on how much time an average employee wastes on email – and what this translates to in terms of the bottom line.
  • How much is wasted annually by needless email interruptions (hint: it’s greater than the GDP of 38 nations in the world).
  • Suggest one effective tip on reclaiming your life from email addiction.
  • Let us in on the secret as to how many emails she reads a day!

Now, if only there was a similar book for Twitter and Blogging addiction!

Ian Griffin Freelance Speechwriter

108 top tweets from #ragangm

The Ragan Corporate Communicators Conference in Detroit (May 4-7) was festival of presentations on Social Media, Speechwriting, Corporate and Internal Communications. Over 250 attended the event held at the General Motors Headquarters in the downtown Renaissance Center and hosted by GM.

Attendees generated over 900 tweets under the hashtag #ragangm. Since Twitter only maintains 10-14 days of content live they will soon disappear. Here’s the archive all of them.

I curated a list of the most interesting 108 tweets,adding links where appropriate for easy reference.

  1. Use Camtasia Studio to create audio “screen-casts” of apps – embed in departmental websites as training aids. Create animated preso library.
  2. Internal comms compete w/lots of entertaining options for employee mindshare. Videos & Photos need to be quality & entertain to compete w/Rolling Stone & People Magazine.
  3. Every internal web page should have star rating system and allow comments.
  4. When developing messages for employees, ask the question “What does this have to do with the key audience how does it speak to their concerns?” WIIFM at two levels for employees: 1) What does it have to do w/ me? 2) How does changing my behavior make my life better?
  5. Three steps to changing employee behavior: 1) Handle comms logistics – content, design, 2) capture employee attention and 3) do be relevant. Result = change behavior.
  6. Comms is responsible for simplifying complexity of business – diagram things.
  7. We can no longer have internal comms messages targeted to everyone – the branch office does not see things same way HQ staff do. Gen Y workers diff. from Baby Boomers.
  8. Every communicator (esp. long-timers) eventually stops communicating 4 their audience and starts communicating 4 their boss. Do whatever it takes to avoid this. Bonus be damned!
  9. 3rd party media training is often more effective. Execs seem more receptive and less defensive/dismissive about their advice. Hire an outside coach for faster results.
  10. People now have now gone from having ADD to ADOS – Attention Deficit … Ooh Shiney!
  11. Executives need to understand Gen Y. “Connect with the coming tidal wave.” Try reverse mentoring, people!
  12. Irrelevant information is not benign. Limited reader attn means messages must be focused on benefits or risk losing readers.
  13. Write for the range of target audience that has least understanding of your topic. Duh!
  14. 89% of journalists say they turn to blogs for story research. Lazy or smart?
  15. 78% of people trust recs of other consumers; 14% trust ads. This is why social media is so important. Who do you trust?
  16. 62% of employees who tweet, tweet from work.
  17. 66% of employers have monitored employees’ internet use; 1/3 of companies have fired someone (mostly for visiting wrong websites).
  18. Make sure to integrate comms channels with each other. Example given: The Petco Scoop blog.
  19. Wildfire has a fun ways – sweepstakes, contests and give-aways – to engage SM audiences.
  20. Ideal number of words in a graf before losing reader attention: 42.
  21. Listening is the most important thing you can do on Twitter – check out and
  22. Speechwriter Rob Friedman: Eli Lilly’s main purpose is to show “the value of pharmaceuticals” – ask: what is it for your company?
  23. “A speechwriter is a playwright for the client – script them well”
  24. Era of destination website is over – archival ‘.com’ sites being replaced by social media.
  25. 68% of online content read by Millennial’s is created by someone they know personally.
  26. Check out cool tool PubSubHubBub.
  27. Real-time search engines can tell u the sentiment & reactions to ur org’s news. Look at
  28. Twitter is not a personal communication tool. It’s a news distribution service.
  29. AT&T uses Twitter Ambassadors found those already on Twitter and take that passion to help your brand in a real way.
  30. Write tweets in ways that add value to the reader to aid optimization.
  31. Augmented reality is the next big thing. @shelholtz: “It’s going to be huge.”
  32. Are u using – It will change ur life.
  33. Polleverywhere – Cool live polling technology. Used my phone to txt a vote and watched live results on the screen!
  34. General Motors: Changing the public’s perception 1 customer at a time. Personal correspondence with GM execs. Actively seek unhappy customers.
  35. Re finding/responding to online complaints, “It costs less…than finding a new customer,” Says GM’s Susan Docherty.
  36. SM lessons learned by GM: Don’t be boring, don’t over-promote, cut the hyperbole, respond to people w/real people.
  37. Social media “policy” for employees: if you can’t say it at your daughter’s bday party, shouldn’t say it online.
  38. “Stop treating customers like a one-night stand,” GM CMO Susan Docherty. Great advice for all companies!
  39. “Emerging” media is now traditional media. GM had 8-fold increase in digital media spending since 2001.
  40. In communications, if you start with the consumer, you will do the right thing.
  41. Qumu – great option for internal communications webcasting: Ragan Conference using them.
  42. GM has “social club,” informal, regular meetings of those from all depts w social media responsibilities.
  43. Remember you (your comp. or org) are a publisher and you compete with media outlets.
  44. PR & Marketing need to have a ‘”happy marriage.” Audiences can’t tell the diff between the two. They just see you.
  45. GM lets employees spend worktime in Twitter & Facebook so they can interact w/customers, which is now part of everybody’s job.
  46. Viral is a phenomenon, not a strategy…absolutely true.
  47. Any GM employee can tweet about the company, says @maryhenige. Co keeps them advised of rules, links them to info & asks them to be smart.
  48. In the end – just provide value. Don’t lead w/your messages; community’s needs come first.
  49. On Social Media…don’t be a brand, be human.
  50. 70% of successful outcome depends on how well you communicate. The last thing u want is 4 execs to be hiding behind their desks.
  51. “SM is like having a kid – you can’t just leave them when they’re done being cute.”
  52. Writers are ditch diggers. Can’t wait for a muse. Get your ass back in there and DIG!
  53. Any speech longer than 20 minutes is too long. If they want longer. Tell them you’ll speak for 20, QA for the rest.
  54. How to determine speech length? 100 words = 1 minute is good benchmark. Anyone speaking faster than that needs to SLOW DOWN, pause for audience to absorb message.
  55. Speechwriters: Make 3-4 big points. No more. Get them from the principal in ur 1st mtg, or they’ll throw ur 1st draft out.
  56. Get a 2nd monitor for your computer (to monitor Twitter).
  57. Use flickr to spark yr creativity.
  58. Use flip cams for fast ‘scrappy’ videos (caveat: content must be good).
  59. Greatest gift of YouTube culture: low expectation for video quality. BUT compelling content + authenticity is extremely high.
  60. Using humor in Corp comm is not always a fireable offense.
  61. Keeping it real: Bullfighter: – eliminate jargon & b.s. in your documents.
  62. Hire a presentation/speech coach to help ur executives improve. Not overnight, but 3-4 months.
  63. Use to shorten URLs and track clicks.
  64. Stay current: Read
  65. Do a short 2 sentence interview with multiple ppl and mash together for a good video on a single topic. Example:
  66. Create a presentation homepage for upcoming events, preview videos, outline, slideshare, ask for comments. Example:
  67. Flip camera tips: Clean the office behind you; use a desk light to highlight face; watch for b/g noise; bump sound with Windows Movie maker post-production.
  68. Keep your language conversational. Test your writing by reading out loud as if you were talking to someone in an elevator.
  69. Writers: Get rid of passive sentences; capture the essence of your press release in a Tweet.
  70. Stop blocking social media from ur employees. Train them and empower them.
  71. Spice up internal comms: Roving reporters and employee film fests: uncovering talent in ur organization.
  72. “Who died & put IT in charge of employee productivity?” @shelholtz
  73. Amplify employee voices thru low-cost podcasting. Can listen at user convenience, develops trust and community. And cheap to produce.
  74. Journalism graduates today are trained to shoot, edit, and publicize. Get a dedicated staff member to focus on video.
  75. @MarkRaganCEO on why authenticity matters: “We live in the age of bullshit.”
  76. Useful podcasting tools: Wavepad, Camtasia Studio, Audacity, Levelator.
  77. On podcasting…the tool is not the message.
  78. Podcast Production Lessons: Cozy up to your radio. Get comfortable with being seen & heard. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
  79. Podcasters: Think like a marketer. Create full campaign. Don’t 4get your global audience. Measure every podcast.
  80. Podcasters: Your leaders make for great content. Look for your influencers. Let employees be the interviewers sometimes.
  81. Internal Podcasts: You’ve got experts in your community. Help them tell their stories. Find the moment when the mike goes away.
  82. Podcasts complement crisis communications. Can quickly be on the scene or respond to rumors. Easily done over the phone.
  83. Time length for videos is controversial. Brevity important in most cases. 90 secs or less. BUT if it’s good, ppl will watch longer.
  84. Executive communications is like a high wire act…eventually something will go wrong.
  85. Public Speakers: Common mistake – spending more time on slides than on delivery. Dry runs are important.
  86. Public Speakers: Conversational tone in a large audience doesn’t always work. Stage presence is important.
  87. Speechwriters: Beware of tongue twisters. “Red Buick, Blue Buick”.
  88. Speechwriters: Prep your exec in case their time gets cut. Provide a 60-30-15 minute version of the speech as a contingency.
  89. Understand Cultural Sensitivity/Diversity issues: Resource: Culture Crossing – Beware of culturally-specific analogies (e.g. Sports US= “4th down”; UK= “batting on a sticky wicket”).
  90. Think about mic’ing your exec when they present so u can re-purpose their speech/audio for other things (website, podcast, transcript, etc.)
  91. “Opportunities multiply as they are seized”- Sun Tzu. Especially true for the internet.
  92. @aribadler suggested we’ve moved from work-life balance to work-life blend.
  93. Avoid extended online debates with ppl who disagree with a message.
  94. 28 Best Praactices for virtual presentations, WebEx sessions:
  95. Best way to brief ur exec? Know them, their style. Personalize ur approach and style.
  96. If your employees love what they do, make them ambassadors.
  97. Pre-flight checklist for exec-comms events available as .doc source:
  98. Blogs must be authentic. Don’t ghost write your CEO’s. Ppl expect authenticity. If they can’t write it, look for something else.
  99. If ur CEO is a bad writer but a good speaker: have him dictate it + ur comm staff can transcribe to the blog.
  100. Comm cascade often fails. Focus on interpretation + location! Help staff take the message, interpret, + pass it on accurately.
  101. Branding: Detroit is considered “gritty”. Baby Boomers equate that to dirty. Gen X define it as “authentic”. Detroit’s brand position: Detroit is where cool comes from.
  102. Ask your agency to pitch ideas they don’t think you’ll approve. Creativity will flow.
  103. Whether it’s online or in print. If you don’t know if people are reading it, why are you doing it?
  104. Interviewing tip: Don’t be afraid to go where your answer leads you and not where your question sent you.
  105. Complaints are inevitable in any biz. Look at them as opportunities to showcase problem solving and communication skills.
  106. Comms must compete for your employees’ attention – Paying employees gets them in the door, but that doesn’t engage and motivate them.
  107. Measure communications by business goals/objectives.
  108. Consider instead of PPT: Animated visuals are dynamic and impressive. As shown in @shelhotz closing keynote.